Reviews

The Glass Menagerie - Review

The plot of Tennessee Williams' semi-autobiographical play, which reflects his own relationship with his mother & sister, concerns the emotional tensions between a mother & her two children. The mother, Amanda, after years of raising her family on her own, escapes the struggle & drudgery of present day life by dreaming of & trying to relive her younger days as a Southern Belle. Williams describes this work as a "memory play" with the son, Tom, stepping in & out of the play to act also as the narrator. The memory aspect of the play is emphasised by the use of haunting music & sound effects, with lighting that fades in & out or with spotlights that just picks out individuals or certain stage areas. Whilst this worked on most occasions I sometimes felt that it was unnecessary & intruded as though a point was being emphasised by underlining with a heavy black marker pen when all that was needed was a delicate highlighter. Delicacy is in the fact the keyword to the play. All the family are emotionally fragile & are as brittle as the glass animals in the daughter, Laura's, collection.

Amanda is a very difficult part to play for the actress has to find the right balance between the monstrousness of the woman's obsessive behaviour & her fragility. Mary Matson often found that balance particularly the scene on the balcony with Laura wishing on the new moon & also in the last scene following the departure of Laura's gentleman caller. However there were times when the balance slipped to caricature. Often as the pitch of the voice went up it became a screech with words being lost. A similar fault lay with James Haines. As Tom the narrator he was very good with his voice dreamy & poetic as the part called for. His final speech when he speaks of being haunted by images of his sister as he travels the world was moving but as Tom the frustrated son he had problems in conveying anger. This is a problem that have I remarked upon before. His excessively intense body language & facial expressions often drew an inappropriate response from the audience. His diatribe against his mother might have worked better if it had been played in a more mocking tone.

I, along with the rest of the audience, was moved by Lauren Heinrich's portrayal of Laura. It was totally natural with not a hint of acting. The shyness & gaucheness of the character was beautifully drawn. Long will I remember the slow radiant smile emerging from her shy & frightened face after she has been kissed only for it to disintegrate into broken heartedness as her hopes shatter. This was the climax to a particularly fine scene played between her & Dominic Orys, the Gentleman Caller with the pair of them seated on the floor in front of lit candles.

Barrie Jerram

 

Review of THE FATHER by Florian Zeller | directed by Mary Allen

Review by Simon Jenner

It’s big shoes Kenneth Cranham’s left in his defining role as André, the once commanding engineer now shrunken with Alzheimer’s in Christopher Hampton’s English version of Florian Zeller’s The Father. In Mary Allen’s New Venture Theatre production Michael Bulman manages with superlative results to recreate André on his own terms.

There’s a moment when daughter Anne sits solitary near a lampshade, reciting how she’s dreamed strangling her ailing father André without resistance: grateful, he smiled in death. It’s one of those moments – in a play that masters our hallucinations – that tell us it’s not simply the eponymous title character of the play who’s skewing the audience with delusions. Allen paces this so the eighty minutes is both absorbing and slowly headlong: utterly Greek.

It means even when André’s off-stage delusions continue: through Anne’s dream, or the wider question of who dreams who in this moving, Pinteresque telling of a man slipping not gently into Alzheimer’s; and his daughter’s attempts to lovingly accommodate dementia with increasingly desperate strategies at husband Pierre’s prompting.

That bleak white prospect’s a way off as Bulman’s André peppers daughter Anne (Lyn Snowdon) with the rich baritonal registers from his singing career, in day-clothing permanently switched for pyjamas.

Bulman begins with the avuncular command of his former self, but reaches through eighty minutes some beautifully-placed notes: bewilderment, anger, petulance, terror (of the husband) and sheer sweeping desolation with a vocal range not seen before.

Strat Mastoris’ classical design features two white flanking panels to a central one, where three fine abstract paintings by Delphine
du Barry hang, and centrally upstage there’s a chest of drawers and a flourishing vase. Stage right there’s a sofa with a throw by Jackie Jones, that eventually transforms into a bleak hospital bed. Opposite is a dining set.To facilitate cunning scene-shifts
Mastoris’ lighting (operated by Max Videaux) is turned on the audience blindingly, just as the original British production. Following the original design too, between each tableau black-out instead of Bach preludes, Cata Lindegaard deploys Philip Glass’s minimalist piano music with disruptions. They trill in increasingly ruptured playback to assure us of André’s deterioration, yet the scenes remain lucid. One factor in the disease’s progression is the clearing away of furniture, as apparently recalled items vanish. First it’s the paintings, vase, chest of drawers vanishing as the spotlights darken all behind them. At one point we’d swear with André we’re in the drawing room.

Anne’s trying a new carer Laura, bubbly Marie Owens, since she’s leaving to live in London where as André quips, it always rains. She’s joining Pierre (Mark Lester), a man she’s known a few months . . . a long time. André’s coping strategies are asserted: the previous carer stole his watch. Proved wrong he says she would have! Characters leave for the kitchen; their existence is then denied. It’s not London but Paris, it’s not a new man but one she’s been with ten years. It’s not his flat but theirs. And then it’s London again.

A second partner (Simon Messingham) appears whom neither we nor André recognize, and briefly a second Anne, Emmie Spencer, early on. Narratives of Anne’s relationship shift. André turns cruelly on Anne and Laura, particularly investing a vanished daughter with Anne’s qualities, saying he loves her, not Anne.

Grumbling husband Pierre asserts André’s living in their flat. The London theme returns. We’re never sure, as in Old Times – surely one starting-point of this essentially triangular relationship, which scenario’s true north. Lester’s the grumbly one, seemingly sympathetic at first with more variable notes, even of reason. He’s capable though of proving behind Anne’s back – as André sees it – he’s got nasty streak; Zeller provides enough interchange with the couple themselves to suggest that. Messingham’s Man (not named) is truculent from the outset.

Spencer not only as Anne, but Laura and a nurse, furnishes sharp analogues to non-recognition. Spencer manages a more quizzical
nuance to distinguish her from Owens’ more childcare-minder Laura, one who’s essentially reductive and infantilising in manner despite initial charm and acceptance. This shift isn’t simply dementia; brief derangement might prove one deviation into sense.
And there’s chronological disruptions where despite the gradual denuding of the set, you realize a later scene comes before. Yet it feels as well as looks later.

Lester’s Pierre shocks suddenly: we just surmise resentful André imagines it. Anne can’t understand why André’s flinching. Scenes reprised, the cast shifts. Suddenly it’s Messsingham and he repeats the gesture. André’s seemingly cruel references to his
favourite daughter transform in Anne’s and André’s shared processing; one scene washes conciliatory pathos with terror. Subtle reprise – though André sharply complains at Anne repeating herself! – gifts a cubist provisionality in Zeller’s masterly construction, its suffering short-circuitry built in.

Bulman gives a blasted heath of a central performance, perfectly tuned to pathos terror and rage: ‘I’m losing my leaves.’ His voice is so micro-pitched that to hear him deliberately crack it exposes a reservoir of shimmering terror.

Snowdon too in a controlled repertoire of tenderness, exasperation and despair counterpoises him, registering the human analogue of this loss. Snowdon’s mostly a little harder-toned than one expects at first, but during the performance she paradoxically
softens her approach as the inevitable itself approaches.

As Spencer patiently explains the final version of his daughter to him, André has to ask another question urging to that final devastating recognition. And the tragedy that he’ll forget he ever realised his tragedy.

Nearly seven years on from its French premiere, The Father proves one of the greatest plays of the decade. Zeller’s written two other plays that reached the West End, both rightly praised; but this remains his masterpiece, and the definitive drama on a terrible subject. Already a classic, it’s directed by Allen with classic economy, featuring a design by Mastoris that underscores it and a set of performances – necessarily Bulman’s above all – that would do it justice anywhere.

Short Play Festival 2019 - Review

New Venture’s got form with profiling new work, and this latest incarnation is the best formula yet. The Short Play Festival

presents just three plays, so not slivers or sketches: works by mentored writers, helmed by experienced directors. Two serious plays about 35 minutes each followed after an interval by a slightly longer comedy.

It’s a necessarily unfussy space – set design’s by Simon Glazier and George Walter. Each is filled with period material. Lighting and rigging’s by Strat Mastoris and this time kept simple with fade up and down from black, operated by Sam Frost. Sound design and costumes are by the directors: Ian Amos, Chris Gates, Mark Wilson and (for sound design) Ian Black too.

Sarah Drew Hope That Plays a Tune Alone

Sarah Drew’s a graduate of the University of Wales scriptwriting MA course and has acted at NVT and BLT for several years. Mark Wilson directs this moving piece that seems straight out of the world of Barbara Pym: an English village, 1946, Kitty (Victoria Thomson) a young war widow’s shy desire is prised out of her by Elsa (Emmie Spencer) her sexually assured friend. And Matt Davies’ Father Andrew is due round. That’s the only detail that puzzles: a Catholic priest isn’t usually at the heart of any village community. It’s essential for the plot though and though it’s plausible it’s the emotional truth that counts. Mark Wilson direct with assurance and the pacing’s spot-on.

Drew with her director and actor manage that in hearts rather than spades. The interaction with Thomson – new to NVT and returning in the next play – and the always excellent Spencer is both touching and funny. Dialogue’s natural and witty – a moment of carrots not dug for victory (spades again) but by the vanquished POW might go into a carrot cake with the weeks; sugar rations for the Church fete.

The Theatre Upstairs is visited with 1940s Utility furniture and natty sideboard. There’s a few vegetables on show, and vestiges of land army headscarves and postwar cardigans frame a time when austerity not a matter of policy choice.

Thomson’s reactions – skittishly sly with Spencer and genuinely embarrassed to be smoked out, shift dramatically when Father Andrew shows up. He announces a decision and Thomson holds us as her reaction changes with barely-contained silence. The reaction between all three is tangible, believably real. Davies plays his eager naïve perhaps perceptively evasive role with a neat sense of boundaries (he’s not the only priest in these plays). Spencer, so sued to empathic roles manages to suggest a naturally sympathetic quick person whose eagerness keeps bestraying her good intentions. It’s Thomson’s reactions we remember most, and the dialogue of the women. At the outset Thomson’s dancing with someone, and we return to this at the end, realizing what it means.

A quiet heartbreaker, a genuinely affecting play. It’d work well on television where its naturalism and quiet integrity would perhaps suit it best.

Michelle Donkin Agency

There’s something of the same naturalism in this more contemporary play following. Directed by Ian Amos it’s a paly of brinkmanship, as Thomson returns in a wholly different role of government or party SPAD who’s spilled the beans, admitted to a certain amount of wrongdoing to get at her party leader. James Bennison’s Sam, with whom she’s had an affair is appalled. He’s staying on and her quitting might make for a few uncomfortable moments as the media wait, but what of loyalty?

She could be recording him, she taunts and at one point invites him to let her strip and find out, wouldn’t he like that? There’s a telling to and fro which never seems too long though similar ground is covered from different angles. This could be anything from opposition to the party gong to war to a dramatic defection just as they’re on the point of leverage and power. Thomson’s playful, hard, cajoling, occasionally tender. It’s clear she has more feeling for Sam than she admits to at first. And as for Sam, Bennison plays him as the more hapless individual. If he recorded her, even now, they’d say the same and forget her, sexism being what it is.

The space is neatly taken with later modern office chairs and a typical work-departing cardboard box on a previous dining table containing a sad cactus, fronds, and personal bric-a-brac. Thomson’s versatility, her equal assurance here starkly contrasts with her previous role. Bennison plays up against this assurance with some nice deceptive moves – not least aiming paper balls at a bin and sometimes missing. A watchable, compelling piece of office sexual politics, with more at stake.

Judy Bignell Match and Matrinomy

The Jane Austen parody is graced with a rather modern red chaise-longe (1980s style, not trad.) and a few chairs. Judey Bignell’s play is a delicious sincere homage: Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice are both cheerfully referenced. The ide was to have six daughters but here we have two, and one man – Chris gates who also directs – plays many (four) parts.

Gates as white-wigged Mr Phelps and the ever-volatile Justine Smith as Mrs Phelps seem just like the Bennetts. Their daughter Evelyn (Emma Lillie Lees) has all the great lines: she’s after Mr Cox, whereas her parents would prefer moneyed Mr Mitchell (same men, black and red coats respectively).

Sydney the younger daughter however likes Mr Andrews the vicar, a benign but idiotic Mr Collins (though his proposal is given to Mr Mitchell to plague Evelyn with). The only slight impediment is that Chris Knight’s Sydney is really the son but brought up amongst women passes for one. The dull Mt Andrews has no idea, but they both seem equally enamoured.

Meanwhile Evelyn’s given rather a lot of herself to Mr Cox. ‘You’ve already give e a lock of your hair’ Cox reminds Evelyn ‘But this hair is different’ she hints with delicious intent. Sill on Mr Cox vanishing Evelyn pines and will have nothing to do with rich Mr Mitchell or his red coat. ‘I want Cox’ she ripostes. No arguing with that.

Lees is delightful as the lustful frustrated young woman, her sister/brother Sydney is nicely gawky Chris Knight, a smaller role, appealingly funny when explaining why it’s so hard to be a girl. Smith’s OTT Mrs Phelps has a tricky job doing an Alison Steadman with her permanent attack of the vapours, and is vocally on full volume throughout. Parody of a parodic character is never easy though a touch more shade in voice at least might ground it.

Smith though has the hardest part, required to overreact throughout. Gates manages a tour-de-farce of voices, including Andrews’ northern one, and the more RP Cox and Mitchell as well as the weary Mr Phelps. He plays up the role-changes by adopting that new practice of letting the audience see he’s changing roles. All this and directing too.

The end of the play is a kind of quick-change farce of three male characters. I’m not quite sure how this play wants to end. We’ve had the conclusion of Some Like It Hot but not at the end. We’re cheated of poor Evelyn. We want Cox too. In the best sense this reminds one of Morecombe and Wise’s longer sketches.

None of these plays is exactly theatrical but two could make the transition to TV easily. The third, more sheerly theatrical tips to burlesque without embracing it and the balance seems right. It’s just that it ends with a Noises Off moment and doesn’t truly resolve.

Austen herself got there first with Love and Freindship, a misspelt little masterpiece of adolescent high jinks written at 15 with illegitimate children and heroes coming in absurdly on cue; and crusty grandfathers shooting heroines dead. It’s as if Austen parodied herself before she found what she was parodying. A dramatization of that, One Fatal Swoon by Carole Bremson and Mary Nelson, played at several venues including the Jermyn Street Theatre throughout 1994-95.

These are all assured pieces, with writing consistently stronger and more developed than previously. That’s partly because of the span but in all cases the truth of the dialogue holds, and it’s fluent, authentic of its time, and rarely exceeds its brief. Hope is genuinely affecting, Agency alert and tricksy, with Match and Matrimony linguistically brilliant and mostly pure theatre.

That last play makes more demands of itself and is a superb parody, memorable, pithy and too good to leave on a downbeat. Worth 110 minutes of any July evening.

Published

 

Review of HYSTERIA by Terry Johnson | directed by Bob Ryder
review by Simon Jenner

‘If you’re waiting for me to break the silence, you’ll be disappointed!’ Terry Johnson’s a mercurial figure in theatre, his activity also punctuated by long silences whilst he directs, and surfacing with a masterpiece, usually several at once. In 2017 two plays including his homage to magical iconoclast Ken Campbell, Ken, confirmed his capacity for renewal, and a return to the stage after many years, playing his younger self.

Olivier Award-winning Hysteria from 1993 is a modern classic. It echoes Johnson’s early (1982) masterpiece Insignificance, which features an unnamed Einstein, Miller, Monroe, and Roy Cohn (who also appears unambiguously in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America). This time though three of the four are real, and the last, well, that’s interesting.

Director and sound designer Bob Ryder employs the solidity of the NVT Upstairs. It features a single set, designed by Adam Kincaid. Freud’s Hampstead study, French windows backstage centre, desk stage right, two rugs (one terribly valuable), and stage left the famous couch and a comfy armchair where when we open Freud dozes in. It’s a rough semi-circle in red paintwork, with a door downstage left (opening onto a pale green landing), and upstage right a closet, where people cluster invisibly naked or with their trousers off. Books line the back walls either side of the French window. Keith Dawson’s lighting might look innocent but has cunning in store: more than diurnal effects on those French windows. Period costumes by Ellie Roser via Gladrags amplify the mad precision.

There’s a little oil fire downstage right. And the lobster Freud picks up as a phone. And the 4,000 year-old phalluses wielded like Jedi-fighting. They’re really impressive, nods a visiting surrealist. Antiques envy.

Summer 1938, Freud’s escaped from Vienna but has cancer of the jaw, a chunk of the cancer left like the Nazis in Vienna, though unlike them (sadly) in formaldehyde. He’s left elderly sisters too and blames himself for not leaving earlier.

Dan Dryer’s Freud opens with those lines: ‘If you’re waiting for me to break the silence, you’ll be disappointed!’ which raises a laugh but of course is his analyst’s opening gambit. He looks round. No one’s there. Freud then asks his daughter Anna via speaker-tube about a young woman patient who’s vanished. It’s five am she reminds him.

At eighty-two, Freud aims to spend his final days in peace. He’s just back from a very unexpected romp: Ben Travers’ Rookery Nook. Except in the structure of the next two hours it never leaves him. His patients are thinning out; he’s anxious to conclude all cases before he dies, so he’s closed for new ones. But there’s a waiting list he’s not prepared for: first, a young woman hammering at the window – Lucy Mae Knight – whom he ignores. Till he can’t.

Hysteria is a little world made cunningly – touching on Nazi Germany, the Surrealists, Judaism, Freud’s theories of the unconscious, family relationships, life, death, love and loss. Made cunningly into a farce. Its genius is shoehorning themes to an alien form and finding the perfect fit.

So when Stuart Curlett’s Salvador Dali turns up to discover a less-than-fully dressed woman in the closet, peace becomes elusive. Oh, we’re ahead of ourselves. Like Rookery Nook though, Dali really did turn up in Freud’s Hampstead life.

And that girl at the window now, soaking, begging to be let in. She’s his anima she tells Freud. Later on she’s Jessica. Freud calls her many other things before he can call her that. Well she must be that young woman.

Arguing herself into a pre-session before referral, Jessica replicates one of his case-notes. Freud’s furious. Is she a student? Not
quite. But she’s attached to this case. So much so she blackmails Freud by stripping off and running into the garden naked, Freud pursuing her with her wet raincoat. She fakes an exit and raids a pink file.

So Freud’s old friend Dr Abraham Yehuda (David Peaty) turns up: Jessica’s bundled into Freud’s closet. Yehuda speculates those under-garments in the garden couldn’t possibly fit Freud’s daughter. And Freud’s tract on Moses being Egyptian? Yehuda will burn this
little blue file. That’s the plan. There’s a plot there, and someone swaps the contents.

Peaty exudes Yehuda’s upright Jewish paternalism, which extends to Freud himself. Though shot through with compassion for Freud, there’s fury at Freud’s undermining Jewish identity with his Moses theory; and under-garments in Freud’s garden. Well?

Naturally Dali arrives just as Freud’s got rid of Yehuda. And we’re back to two people in the closet as Yehuda returns with a disabled bicycle. Not long after Freud’s got a Wellington boot on his hand, underwear in the other, and a bandage round his head to stop pain his jaw. Surrealism incarnate and Dali brings a gift, that painting of Narcissus with the egg-cracked head which he
invites Freud to analyse – replacing Freud’s Picasso with it above the desk.

This madcap Dali is the finest performance from Curlett I’ve seen. He transforms Dali’s peacock narcissism through Johnson’s exposing an egg-fragile ego under the farcical preening. Curlett’s Faydeau-like timing, as he gets knocked out, kneed, assumes interesting poses and narrates how he – well, again he must be seen. Height and the kind of timing given to a hapless waiter crossed with a huge
ego might scratch his immaculate surface. It gets madder so makes far more sense.

Hysteria’s nub though is to question Freud’s radical revision of his theories of hysteria. Before 1897 he concluded many women’s psychological blocks were caused by sexual assault when children, including oral rape for instance here. After, he concluded
these were fantasies. After all over half of Viennese fathers – including his own – would be guilty. And these are powerful men. Has Freud compromised a key insight out of expediency, or is it because he’d then incriminate his own father?

There’s more cost than even Jessica can guess. ‘That year . . . was the year that has been killing me’ Freud concludes. And we conclude . . . should we break the silence?

Dryer looks more in his nifty fifties but Johnson’s playing with time. Summer 1938 isn’t Kristallnacht’s November – Yehuda brings that news. There’s a reason and the team respond to this creatively. For instance, if Jessica was born in 1898 she would be forty, not twenty-nine as she proclaims and Knight seems to be. Dryer combines dignity with fluster, a teetering on the point of extinction flared up into one last madcap assault on the self. It’s his maître d’hôtel role to restore balance, solitude, Thanatos even, crossed with lots of wild animus and anima that fuels classic farce.

Knight balances distress and knowingness, wildness with analytic inquisition. Just occasionally she’s shouty with Dryer’s Freud (when he raises his voice), though her finest suit, when she’s wearing Dali’s in fact, then even more her own again – is the implacable stripping of Freud, her core mission. There, Knight ensures her character’s naked, but Freud’s skin has gone. She’s a superb nemesis.

Farcical and profound, so tragic it’ll leave you weeping with laughter, this is a classic produced in the classic tradition of NVT at its best.

First published May 21, 2019 by Simon Jenner at fringereview.co.uk

Review of ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD by George Brant | directed by David Eaton
review by Simon Jenner

 

Our Town. Gone mad. It’s back. For those who missed last year’s NVT rehearsed reading Elephant’s Graveyard returns with the same director and nine of the 13-strong cast in a full production.

George Brant’s dystopic vision – from 2010 – of two days in September 1916 in Erwin, Tennessee, really happened. Spark’s Circus arrived, and an elephant was arraigned for murder. If you can call it either of those two things. ‘There was a town. A man with red hair. An elephant’ as the Ringmaster Martin Ryan informs us with a crackling nasal snarl. ‘It’s all about the investment.’ People cheering on their feet are pipe dreams, be careful what you wish for. He relates the insurance claim for a Billy Smart elephant; and how it was then posthumously used again: stuffed till it fell apart into a ghost of itself. But this elephant’s called Mary. And through a chorus of thirteen characters, we hear what happened.

You won’t hear it from the red-haired man. A newcomer, he demands the right to lead with Mary, largest of the elephants, when the Trainer Shorty (Alice Ringholm Heder) would prove far more suitable. Mary spies a thrown-out watermelon the Hungry Townsperson (Alex Williams) relates was there because the poor trash men finally went on strike. The red-haired man’s enraged. The effect’s disastrous. Talk about taking an elephant to crack a nut . . . without the gun.

As for an elephant in the room, director David Eaton has managed far more in the flexible NVT Studio space, with Richard de Costobadie on production with Bryony Weaver managing. Vanessa Barrett, Mark Green and cast member Naomi Horsfall’s costume design has produced spectacularly seedy results – from the battered Mad Hatter’s shorter top hat and hunting scarlet (not pink) of the Ringmaster, to the tatterdemalion rags of the poor, this is a full costume performance; striking, spare, original and strange. The tangerine overalls of the Steam Shovel Operator (de Costobadie) look almost period, Claudia Hindle’s Ballet Girl (all sensually wrought in Mary’s trunk that never loses its erection), Ben Pritchard’s Clown: the overall scarlet/black detail of costumery is carried to Adam Kinkaid’s scarlet/black scene painting with Julie Monkton’s makeup prominent – not just on the clown. Keith Dawson’s
light design is unfussy, ideal for a straight choric production.

Stacy Frost’s light and sound operation comes to the fore in balancing the live musicians: Becca Huggett the evocative singer, guitarist Adam Kinkaid and Neil Rocks on drums; their pieces particularly the finale, are evocative eldritch additions to the story. Period songs, new twist. Accents for the most part are starkly resonant, and rasp as authentically as my knowledge of place goes.

The townspeople demand a trial too. The cast stand facing a corner of the Studio. They rarely move – the Trainer does most of that, running off and on stage. Each character speaks out and virtually never to each other save by implication and commentary (the Tour Manager on the Ringmaster).

The play is then a chorus-line of disapprovals with slight demurrals – Heder’s empathic and furious Trainer, and Joseph Cooper’s Preacher. Heder, repeating her debut performance has much to do and is excellent. Ryan’s of course the actor cracking the whip and his own voice: it’s a tour-de-force. Diana Banham’s Tour Manager offers a realistic hard-boiled watering down of the Ringmaster’s almost maniacal obsessions with giving the public what they want. But she’s a shrewder judge he concedes, of the most base instincts: and how to survive them.

Pritchard’s Clown who has so much digging to do after his initial ball-spilling, invests his role with predictable humanity; it’s what clowns are meant to crumble to.

Mark Green’s excellent Engineer litanising the railroad’s infinite possibility, metallically snarls his disdain for anything un-mechanical. Being keeper of times, he can stop time. His mechanical hymns are evocatively horrid. You fear for his throat. Jamie S Marchant’s Strongman looks like Rooster Byron and sounds Hungarian: his pique at being upstaged, his simmering, contained rage clicks as he snaps his fingers back and forth. Paddy O’Keeffe enjoys a sojourn from Shavian socialism for which he’s known, as the xenophobic Marshal (indeed Trumpety Trump). That’s in contrast to the Young Townsperson Naomi Horsfall’s more sympathetic lament – she makes an appealing curveball of sensibility.

Cooper’s Preacher is a simple part but here invested with something like aching compassion, and a moving last appearance commenting on the other elephants’ actions. He invests more roar than his predecessor in the part last year, and overall there’s more propensity to vocal explosion.

Williams, too, as the Hungry Townsperson manages another voice of dissent. And he adds a chillingly eloquent coda. With all this fuss of hanging, townsfolk forget that black people were being hanged here.

Hindle’s Ballet Girl is a vulnerable mix of sexual excitement, faux-innocence (‘any way you want me’) and dire need. What will she do if there aren’t elephants? She’d rated them above diamonds as a girl’s best friend. At the end, she wonders about diamonds.

One stand-out is another more layered character, Cata Lindegaard’s Muddy Townsperson. Someone submerged in want and loss shows at first despair, then horror, then anger then horror again. Her explosive outbursts really add a dimension and show this production’s
sheer heft, in only her second acting role. Initially it seemed Lindegaard might start on too voluble a grief, but she fines this down and shows pace, variety and something extra in her final moments; truly moving. De Costobadie’s Steam Shovel Operator exudes at first a bored desire to see spectacle. By the end he’s a witness to spectacular collective lunacy, exuding a sad stoicism, a determination to see it all through.

When premiered in 2010 this work received baffled notices, indeed disdain. Then it won awards. Now it seems frighteningly prescient and its anniversary, 2016 seems to have brought the circus to the Whitehouse – as some cast members subtly signalled in hand movements. Beyond that moment though, this is still a cautionary tale. NVT should be proud. It’s in their best American vein.

First published June 19, 2019 - by Simon Jenner at fringereview.co.uk